I was honored to be asked to share my cancer survivor journey at the October 5th Faces of Faith event held at the Mattapan Health Center and sponsored by the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Boston’s Faith Based Cancer Disparities Network. The full version of my commentary is below.
The event was well attended and I was so excited to be able to share my story in the hopes that it might influence someone else to not skip a mammogram or any other physical exam. Regular exams can increase the likelihood of early detection and increased survivorship rates. A special thank you to Karen Burns White at the Dana Farber Cancer Center for inviting me to represent other cancer survivors and be part of your amazing cancer survivor photo exhibit.
Faces of Faith Commentary: Dianne’s Cancer Journey
In March of 2015, I went to my scheduled mammogram just like every other year since I turned 40. I had no reason to believe that my mammogram would not be clean as it had been during past mammograms. But that year, I got the news that in fact, I had a malignant tumor.
The good news story is that my aggressive cancer was caught early. And I believe that it was caught early because I never skipped a mammogram.
Despite the bright prognosis for recovery, I was not fully prepared for the process of telling my partner, my family, my friends, and especially my daughter about my cancer.
I was not truly prepared for the side effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I was not prepared for the debilitating tiredness, skin changes and loss of my eyelashes, & eyebrows and the muscle and joint aches. And I could not wrap my brain around becoming completely bald and losing my kinky curly hair from the chemotherapy treatments.
But with the help of my very tight knit family including my mother, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, my partner and my daughter who were there for me every step of the way, I made it through and I’m happy to say that I’m in remission.
But the process was a life changing one for me. I’ve become an advocate for people of color and particularly women around the importance of regular health screenings and self-care.
I’ve started a support group for women of color touched by cancer and their caretakers that focuses on health, wellness and beauty. And based on my experience of not being able to find a kinky curly wig at any cancer center boutique at any major hospital in the Boston area using my health insurance, I am in the pre-launch stage of starting a business called Coils to Locs that will position us as a supplier to Boston area hospitals of natural style afro kinky/curly wigs, braids, twists and loc’ed wigs.
I’ve tried to adopt the philosophy of “when served lemons, make lemonade”!
So, despite my experiences over the last two years, there is one thing that I always keep in mind when I start thinking? “Why me?” I just sing to myself:
Ask me how I’m doing, I’m blessed, yes
Living every moment, no regrets
Smile up on my face, I’m like oh yes!
I’m blessed, yes, I’m blessed, yes, I’m blessed!
Author: Dianne Austin
*Lyrics from the Charlie Wilson Song, “I’m Blessed”